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Sept. 18, 2020

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Clark County Council updates Heritage Farm master plan after delay

‘Flex space,’ redirect of trail around site part of new vision

By , Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published:

Clark County has updated its master plan for the 78th Street Heritage Farm following a process that took much longer than anticipated.

The county council unanimously approved the plan during its meeting Tuesday. After more than a year of discussion and public input, the updated plan includes a vision to redirect a trail around the site and a “flex space” on the property — the use of which has yet to be determined.

The farm was founded in the 1870s and includes historic buildings, wetlands and wells. It’s also home to the WSU Clark County Extension office, community gardens and other gardens. Numerous organizations — including the Clark County Food Bank, Master Gardener Foundation and Partners in Careers — use the farm along with 22 programs and projects.

Several residents commented Tuesday about the farm’s historic, agricultural and cultural significance.

“The value of the Heritage Farm cannot be measured only in dollars. There are many intangible benefits,” said Susan Yeager, a member of the Master Gardener Foundation of Clark County’s board. “With the continued pressure for commercial and residential growth, maintaining Heritage Farm as a natural setting is even more important.”

The master plan process began in August 2018 and was expected to wrap up by June. The delay, due largely to county staff turnover, created significant concern about the county’s intentions for the farm.

“I know that you were expecting to have this done quite a while ago, and so thank you for hanging in there with us,” Councilor Julie Olson said before the plan was adopted. “I do think we’re on the right path in terms of sustainability of the farm.”

Sue Marshall, president of the Friends of Clark County’s board, said the update “upholds the vision” outlined in the previous master plan. She said she hopes the organization can be a “sounding board” as discussions continue about specific financial strategies at the farm.

“Since Friends first became aware there was a delay in adoption of the master plan last year, and some uncertainty of future uses that may be allowed at Heritage Farm, we had begun meeting with a group of shareholders to better understand the options and protect existing uses that provide valuable resources to the community,” Marshall said.

The county contributed $564,575 to the farm in 2018, more than have of which went toward WSU Extension, according to the county’s budget figures. Councilors have expressed a desire to make the farm more self-sustaining.

“Our goal should be to break even,” Council Chair Eileen Quiring said. “If it’s something less than that, you know, we’ll deal with that. But I do think that should be our goal.”

With the master plan in hand, county staff will begin working on a more specific business plan for the farm that will cover ideas such as how to better publicize the farm, hold events, levy fees, build a financial portfolio and use private-public partnerships.

The county plans to seek additional public input and finish the business plan by the end of the year in what County Parks and Lands Manager Galina Burley called an “ambitious” timeline.

“This is, as we know, a very community-sensitive issue, and when things kind of go a little bit off the rails, we’re the ones who hear about it,” Councilor Temple Lentz said. “So being aware of the work that’s being done and what’s being put out into the community would be really helpful.”

Quiring represented the sole “no” vote last month when councilors set a date for Tuesday’s vote. She said at the time that she was seeking additional specifics about a business plan, but the chair said Tuesday that she was swayed after seeing the timeline.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter
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